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Emotional Cullen’s Barnsley joy

Posted on by Tom Warrington

Emotional Joe Cullen secured his second PDC ProTour title of 2017 by defeating Zoran Lerchbacher 6-4 in the final of Players Championship 16.

The Bradford ace’s love of the Barnsley Metrodome – where he also took victory in April – continued as he picked up the £10,000 first prize to conclude the weekend’s ProTour action.

Cullen had withdrawn during last week’s European Darts Open event in Leverkusen to return to the UK after his father suffered a heart attack, but after seeing him on the road to recovery enjoyed a memorable success in Barnsley.

Cullen’s day was book-ended by tight contests against Austrian aces, with Rowby-John Rodriguez taking him to a deciding leg in the first round.

The 27-year-old then overcame Scotland’s Jamie Bain, Belgium’s Mike De Decker and Dutch ace Benito van de Pas before coming through an 11-leg quarter-final with Nathan Aspinall.

Cullen then raced past Daryl Gurney in the semi-finals – having previously overcome the Northern Irish ace in the final when he won a Players Championship exactly three months earlier.

Cullen took that form into the early stages of the final, winning the opening leg on double ten, hitting a 102 finish to break and an 11-darter for a three-leg lead.

The next two were shared before Lerchbacher, aided by a key 96 checkout, hit back to level at four-all, but Cullen regained his composure by taking out 60 in leg nine before following up a 180 with double ten to seal the title.

An emotional Cullen dedicated the win to his father, admitting: “He’d be proud of me. Hopefully he’s on the mend now, he’s back home and obviously things are looking up so I wanted to do it for him.

“I’m just happy to win. I felt comfortable all day but I didn’t feel like I was playing well – I just cleaned up the doubles.

“I’ve never played Zoran before, he’s an unexpected finalist and you don’t know what to expect so I didn’t want to be complacent and I wanted to do the job.

“I think I made it harder than I should have done but I got over the line, so that’s the main thing.”

Cullen had made his breakthrough into the world’s top 32 last year after reaching his first TV quarter-final at the Coral UK Open, and now moves up to a career-high 21st on the PDC Order of Merit.

However, he added: “It’s weird – I’m sort-of disappointed with my form this year. Although I’m better off financially on the rankings this year, I felt like I was a lot more consistent last year.”

Lerchbacher produced a day of brilliant darts to win through to his first ranking final.

The two-time World Championship qualifier battled past Tony Newell, Robert Owen, Mark Webster and Robert Thornton to reach the quarter-finals, with three of those matches going to a deciding leg.

He then saw off former World Youth Champion Keegan Brown 6-4 and came from behind to edge out Steve Beaton 6-5 in the semi-finals, earning £6,000 for his day’s efforts.

Gurney was bidding to win his second Players Championship title of the year, but now travels to Las Vegas to make his World Series of Darts debut on the back of a semi-final appearance.

He defeated Paul Nicholson, Matthew Edgar, Jermaine Wattimena, Saturday’s Players Championship winner Darren Webster and his Northern Irish World Cup team-mate Brendan Dolan as he won through to the last four on the day.

Another recent Players Championship winner, Steve Beaton, also made it through to the last four, as he overcame Simon Preston, Aden Kirk, Andy Boulton, Kirk Shepherd and Ian White before agonisingly missing out against Lerchbacher.

White was appearing in the quarter-finals for a tenth time on the PDC ProTour this year to continue his strong 2017 form, while Dolan had won through to the last eight for the first time since February.

Former World Youth Champion Brown and recent PDC Unicorn Challenge Tour event winner Aspinall, meanwhile, enjoyed their best runs of 2017 on the ProTour as they also won through to the quarter-finals.

The tournament was the last before the cut-off for BetVictor World Matchplay qualification, with Justin Pipe holding on to claim the final ProTour Order of Merit place.

Pipe’s semi-final appearance on Saturday had moved him above Chris Dobey in the standings, with the youngster unable to recover 24 hours later as he joined Jonny Clayton, Ronny Huybrechts, Dimitri Van den Bergh, Vincent van der Voort, Robbie Green and Mark Webster in missing out on Blackpool places.


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